Chat with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s third Panda Crate, which seems to be aimed at a baby aged 5 to 6 months, is about language development and babble. To tie this idea into a theme, the crate focused on farm animals and animal sounds, which are often easier for babies to say than actual words. Certainly Veronika fits this trend, with “meow” “woof” “quack” and “baa” in her proud repertoire.  So without further ado, here’s what she received in this crate!

One: Mooing Cow

This was a very silly cow stuffed animal that moos when you turn it upside-down. Veronika wasn’t quite sure what to make of this little fellow!

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I tried playing pass back and forth with her, but she was a little scared of the cow! Instead, I encouraged her to moo along, and brought the cow back for later books and games (read on).

Two: Stacking Animals

These wooden animals – a pig, a sheep, a duck, and a bunny – are fantastic. They are just the right size for little hands, lightweight but sturdy, and lend themselves to numerous games. We lined them up in a row…

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…and then I showed her how to stack them flat on their sides, easier than standing them upright.

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When I stacked them atop one another, she was eager to topple the animal tower over! I can definitely see how this toy will grow with her, once she’s able to stack them herself.

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Three: Peek-A-Boo Barn

The farm fun continued with this neat vocab-building toy. Because each of the three barn doors opens in a different way (twist, lift, or slide), you can emphasize these verbs while your little one plays. Certainly Veronika didn’t waste any time getting her hands busy with it.

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She even played peek-a-boo with the duck up top!

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We returned to the theme of animal noises as she played, and I asked prompting questions like, “Where is the horse?” to build her animal vocabulary.

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Four: Pull-Along Truck

This gross motor toy was a welcome addition to the crate. The fabric upper body Velcros around the wooden wheel base, although ours was a bit droopy. That didn’t deter Veronika from zooming it everywhere!

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There’s room for onomatopoeia here, making truck sounds like vroom vroom and beep beep as you play. It’s also just right for loading in the wooden animals and giving them a ride.

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I can’t wait until Veronika is old enough to pull it as she walks, but for right now she was more than happy to push it along at a crawl.

Five: Board Book

As with every crate, this one featured a book about our friend Panda. In this one, Panda says hello to different animals on the farm.

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The book features numbers as well as animal sounds, and we recruited our new friends (the mooing cow and the wooden animals) to act out the story!

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Now it was time to check out this crate’s Wonder magazine. There were linguistic tips for every age, including activities we did when Veronika was 0 to 3 months old (sitting close and cooing back), 4 to 6 months old (repeating single-syllable sounds) and 7 to 12 months old (narrating the day). I liked the tip about praising language use instead of correcting it, which we’re prone to do as parents.

Wonder also had a page about baby signing, featuring 6 signs that Veronika already knows: milk, eat, more, all done, play, and help.

The suggested “Beyond the Crate” activities were mainly ones Veronika and I have done before. First up: Sounds All Around i.e. playing with onomatopoeia. She loves to copy sounds, so I thought of some fun new ones. While playing with her tea set, I added a  “pssssh” pouring sound.

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She was soon eagerly pouring for our tea party and shoving the cup in my face for a “sluuurp!” We also love to “beep boop” our light switches and to “choo choo” our trains.

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And of course, animal toys are ripe for onomatopoeia play, so we circled back to the new wooden ones.

There was also a recommended game of Tot Talk (responding to your baby’s babble as if having a real back-and-forth conversation). We do this often, and Veronika loves to monologue at me!

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Lastly, we played In Full Swing, a cute way to teach hello and goodbye as you push your baby on a swing. Veronika is just starting to wave and say hi to other babies, so she loved this game. Add other words like “forward” and “backward”, too.

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For musical fun, the natural song to sing with this crate is Old Macdonald Had a Farm.

Finally, we checked out three recommended books:

  • Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig
  • Listen to the Pets by Marion Billet
  • Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris

Who Says MOOO?

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Here’s an easy variation on teaching animal sounds to your little one. Print out brightly colored pictures of a few favorite animals (or cut them from children’s magazines) and have them laminated.

Now you have the perfect “flash cards” for having fun with sounds.

Veronika knows and copies two of these already: cat:meow and dog:woof, so I showed her these cards first.

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She loved the cat image so much she hugged it and didn’t want to put it down.

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The dog got her experimental “ffff” sound, plus silly play.

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When I showed her the cow and asked,”Who says moooooo?” in a loud imitation, she looked up at me in delight. She’d never heard such a long moo. I think she even tried to vocalize it back.

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We also went through a few common animals like horse:neigh, pig:oink and sheep:baa.

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The cards themselves were a delight to her, so we’ll keep these around for lots of play and learning!

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Gallant Challenge: Endangered Animal Art

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Travis is inspired every time he reads the profile on Gallant Kids in his Highlights magazine. This month’s read was about a girl who paints pictures of endangered animals and sends the proceeds from her sales to charities that aid animals. We loved the idea, and immediately decided to make some pictures of our own.

Because Travis loves snakes, we looked up which species have populations that are decreasing or at risk.

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First, Travis drew a pit viper.

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He was so proud of the colors he blended together and immediately wanted to draw more snakes.

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Pretty soon, he had an “art gallery” wall filled with a snake pictures, featuring everything from a yellow-horned lancehead snake…

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…to mom and baby tropical forest snakes.

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Obviously Travis won’t be making money from these little drawings, but I loved how proud he was, how the activity got him thinking about conservation and protecting animals, and how it challenged his artistic skills as he thought hard about how a snake’s body and head should appear on the page.

 

Snack Animals

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Independence is so crucial to kindergartners, and I have loved watching Travis’s confidence grow since school began only a month ago. Now, he wants to do all the little steps himself each day, from buttoning shirts to buckling his backpack. Being able to serve themselves drinks and snacks is also key for kids’ independence at this age, so we created this adorable snack animal to keep easy snacks at hand!

To start, remove the lid from an empty oatmeal canister, and trace twice on cardboard. Note: I found an old cereal box easier than stiffer cardboard packaging for tracing and cutting out. That said, it means your final animal won’t be quite as sturdy and might sit on your counter instead of standing!

Draw legs below each circle and cut out; these will be the front and back of your animal.

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Travis decided we should turn ours into a cow, but really any animal will work! Highlights magazine also suggested a pig or a deer.

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For the cow, we painted the legs white with black spots.

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I cut an additional shape to be the cow’s head, which we glued to one of the circles.

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Don’t forget to paint the canister, too, which received its own coat of white paint and black dots.

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Once the paint dries, glue the head piece to the lid of the canister. Glue the back legs to the back of the canister.

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Let the glue dry, then stuff with treats! You can also add yarn for a tail, depending which animal you choose. Pink would have been cute on the pig version!

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As noted, our cow kneels down a bit, but Travis loves that he can help himself to an afternoon treat.

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Summer Baby Field Trips

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If it’s your baby’s first summer, you may be hesitant to get out and about in the heat. But here are a few of my suggestions for places that – yes! – you can take baby. Veronika is 9 months old for all of the ideas below, but you can adapt them for your child from birth on up.

Head to the Pool:

Ideally, there will be a kiddie area with shallow water where you and your baby can sit together. Worst case scenario, camp out on the shallowest step.

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Veronika loved hanging out here, kicking her feet and dipping her hands in the water. Bigger kids brought her a few pool toys, which made fantastic teething rings.

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Tips: Make sure to stay in the shade as soon as you’re out of the water and dried off, and come prepared with plastic baggies (for wet bathing suits), swim diapers, regular diapers, a change of clothes, and snacks or milk (depending on age).

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If you’re inclined to go deeper, take baby in your arms to swish around; babies love this feeling of weightlessness.

Butterfly Garden:

We stopped by a small butterfly garden that’s been in our local area for almost 30 years. The wonder in Veronika’s eyes was immediate as she watched the butterflies swirl and dance above her.

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One landed on her shoulder and it was pure magic. She looked over at me after watching this one, as if to make sure I saw it too.

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She also loved just touching the plants and bright flowers.

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There are so many colors and scents for a baby in this experience! Just make sure you help keep little fingers away from the delicate insects themselves.

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Tips: Go early (right at opening is ideal!). Many places like this will host camp groups in the summer, and I wanted her to marvel at the butterflies without lots of kids in the way. We were lucky to share the room with only two other families.

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Also, consider leaving the stroller behind. She was much more into it when she was out where she could swivel her head and take in the butterflies from all directions.

Admire New Construction:

Big trucks are fascinating to babies and for good reason! There’s noise, there’s movement, there’s lifting, there’s digging. Veronika and I stopped by a local street that’s been under construction all season. There goes whirly swirly cement truck!

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She had no idea what was coming around the corner, but grinned once she saw this bulldozer go by.

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Tips: If the noise is too loud for your little one, consider standing far back, or investing in Baby Banz.

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There will still be plenty of movement and excitement to observe from far back, without overwhelming the senses. Also, try to go on a day that’s not too hot, or when you can be in the shade, since construction sites tend to be sun-drenched dusty places.

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Botanical Garden:

Don’t think your baby will be bored in a place with no toys; as with the butterfly garden, the draw here is for all the senses.

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There are bold colors to take in visually; the feel of wind on hair or sunshine on skin or grass on toes; and of course the smell of pretty flowers.

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Many botanical gardens can be overwhelmingly large, so either find a small one or stick to a small area.

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If allowed, lay down a picnic blanket and spread out a few toys or books to read together and make a little afternoon of it.

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Tips: Just because you’re not at a pool or beach, don’t forget a big sunhat and sunscreen. Also make sure to bring along bug spray, especially if garden trails lead through wooded or shady areas.

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Animal Fun:

I don’t take my kids to zoos, but I love exposing Veronika to animals through local sanctuaries. Although we’ve visited such farms in the past, today she was very alert and focused on the animal’s behavior. She loved watching the chickens and roosters.

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Their crowing startled her a little, but she was fascinated watching them take dirt baths or roost up high.

She also loved the cows! For each animal we marveled at, I reminded her of their noises. “Moo moo!”

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The sheep were enjoying a morning munch on grass, which she seemed to love.

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There’s lots of great ways to expose your baby to new vocabulary on a trip like this, too. Barns and tractors come to life, instead of being abstracts in a board book!

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Tips: Go in the morning. Animals will be more active before the hottest part of the day, and your baby will notice movements more than sleeping animals.

Where have you taken your baby this summer? Please share in the comments!

Animal Diaper Time

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The days of Veronika lying still during diaper changes are over and my little squirmer is constantly trying to grab at diapers or wipes or roll all around. I needed something to shake things up and keep her entertained!

The answer? Animals! I now have a few ways I include them at diaper time. First, I hung a few animal pictures from magazines on her wall. The bright visuals catch her attention!

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I also glued a few animal pictures onto index cards, favoring familiar farm animals and pets.

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I present these to her at diaper time, name the animal, and make its sound. Look Veronika, pigs! Oink oink.

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Finally, if even that doesn’t do the trick, I have a few plastic animals handy.

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I hand her a horse (or cow, or sheep) and name the animal and its sound, and she is happily distracted during the change.

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If all else fails, keep a favorite stuffed animal on hand, who can swoop in for a hug!

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Animal Magic

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We have a cat who hates everyone on earth… except my two kids, thank goodness. I had read about this phenomenon before my eldest was born, that cats will guard a home against “outsiders”, but will immediately protect those who live within the home, so I never worried about introducing the cat to the babies. From the moment they came back from the hospital, he was their protector and nursemaid. He parked himself by the bassinet at nap time, sat by their feet during tummy time, and curled up by their side whenever they nursed.

The affection between family pets and babies runs both ways. It turns out babies love watching cats almost as much as cats love watching baby. Pets can fill kids with wonder, and are often their first exposure to the animal world. Today, Veronika and I took some time to truly appreciate and marvel at the cat.

As you can see, he loves to join playtime.

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At six months old, Veronika is truly aware of him now, and loves petting his fur (this is a great time to introduce words like “gentle” to your little one).

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If you’re worried that your baby will grab on to the fur too tightly, try rubbing feet into the fur instead.

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As she sat on my lap, I let Veronika stroke the cat, and we also listened for his noises, his meows and his purrs.

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Because we don’t have a dog, I also sought out a few chances for her to see canines in action. We headed to the local dog park and heard barks and yips.

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We also saw some dogs getting groomed while at the pet store!

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If you don’t have a pet at home, consider a similar outing, or go to a friend’s house for some animal magic. Here Veronika got to check out some birds!

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I recommend sitting your baby on your lap if you’re unfamiliar with the animal. Needless to say, you should always supervise animals and babies closely, even at home.

 

Teach Your Cat to High-Five

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Here is an adorable challenge from Travis’s Highlights magazine: Can you teach your cat a trick? Travis was gamely up for trying, and although we didn’t exactly succeed, our cat was an eager participant! It was a great way to engage my son with our companion animal in a new way – cat and boy both enjoyed it!

The goal was to teach our cat, Krishna, to high-five with his paw touching our hand.

Hold a cat treat in your right hand.

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Hold your left hand up just slightly above the cat’s head, as if you’re waiting for a high-five. Now hover the hand with the treat in front of that. The cat will (hopefully) paw for the treat.

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We gave praise, and then tried again, over the course of a few days!

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Okay, so we never got a paw to palm, since Krishna wanted to go in each time with his nose. But it was fun to have his nose nuzzle up to the palm.

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In sum, what great inter-species play! Has your child ever taught the family dog or cat a trick? Please share in the comments.

Hummingbird Puppets

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We’re welcoming the birds of spring with this little finger puppet craft from Travis’s Ranger Rick Jr.! The pom pom puppets probably come out close to a hummingbird’s true size, which is neat to think about.

First, Travis selected which color pom poms we should use for the bodies. His was dark blue and light blue, and mine was yellow and pink. Glue the two pom poms together.

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Next we snapped toothpicks in half for the long pointy beaks. Glue a half onto whichever pom pom will be the head. Cut triangles from foil cupcake liners, and use two for the wings and one for a tail.

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Googly eyes complete the little birds.

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To make them into puppets, cut a strip of felt and glue into a circle that will fit your child’s finger. Glue onto the bottom of the pom poms and let dry.

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Now flutter your hummingbirds! Ranger Rick even included a sweet little poem to recite as you fly them around.

Look in your garden

And you just might spy

A hummingbird flash

As it quickly flies by.

 

Watch the small bird

Putting on a great show – 

Moving this way and that,

Always on the go.

 

When it finds flowers

So bright and so fair, 

It sips sweet nectar

While still in the air.

Travis even had the birds drinking “nectar” from some other toys!

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Meet the Animals

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I find it funny that we still place such emphasis on farm animals and animal noises with babies; most of us, I would bet, do not live on a farm anymore, and yet somehow this has persisted as one of the earliest things children should know. As a vegan family, I also face a dilemma; I want my children to know and understand animals that have traditionally been farmed, but don’t want to visit places that mistreat the animals.

Enter the sanctuary: These places are fantastic for children to get right up close to animals and learn about them. They’re becoming more common, so do seek one out near you!

First, Veronika spent the morning playing with animal toys and reading some of our favorite animal books.

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Then it was off to meet our animal friends! She loved the chickens.

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And this chicken loved her.

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We took the time to stop and watch each animal, and I described their behavior to her. Have you ever watched a chicken take a dust bath? It’s fantastic! Next we checked out the goats.

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If you’re allowed to feed the animals, it will be fun for babies to watch. They obviously can’t do it themselves yet, but a big sibling or parent can help.

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This adorable sheep was delighted watching Veronika after a taste of fresh grass from us.

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Next we checked on some adorable new pigs. “Oink oink,” I said as we watched them play. For each animal, you can make lots of noises in echo every time the animals do; it will help your little one understand the sounds during playtime at home.

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The last stop was this beautiful big steer.

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Now when you continue the play at home, your child will have a true frame of reference for each animal. Veronika later had fun with her plastic bath animals and we moo-ed, baa-ed, oink-ed, and neigh-ed our way through bathtime.